Replacing DeSean: Don’t sleep on Jeremy Maclin

Replacing DeSean: Don’t sleep on Jeremy Maclin

82 receptions, 1,332 yards receiving, nine touchdowns; that’s what the Philadelphia Eagles must replace in the NFL’s No. 2 offense after the release of DeSean Jackson. Where’s it supposed to come from? Not necessarily from any one player. In this four part series, we examine whose roles will increase as a result of the move.

Is it possible we’ve all forgotten how good Jeremy Maclin really is?

Up until last season, there was legitimate debate as to whether the 2009 first-round pick is actually a superior all-around wide receiver to DeSean Jackson. There was even some chatter that Maclin might be a better fit for Chip Kelly’s offense.

Then disaster struck. Maclin suffered a torn ACL early during the first full day of training camp. His season erased, the onus fell on Jackson to replace Maclin’s production.

In 2014, the shoe will be on the other foot. This time, Maclin is tasked with filling the void left by Jackson’s release.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand perfectly the concerns over hanging your hat on a No. 1 receiver coming off of knee surgery. And it is true that in the four seasons Maclin has been on the field for, he’s never managed to eclipse 1,000 yards receiving—although he has reached 1,000 yards from scrimmage.

Let’s take the second concern first, that Maclin hasn’t passed some magical statistical baseline that separates the No. 1s from the No. 2s. Before we start making excuses for the guy, let’s look back on his breakout season of 2010.

Among wideouts, Maclin’s 70 receptions ranked 19th. His 964 yards ranked 18th. 10 touchdowns were tied for 7th. 13 receptions of 20-plus yards, t-21st. 45 receptions for first down, 19th.

Those numbers would’ve been good enough to make him a No. 1 receiver on half the teams in the league. In Philly, he was always kind of viewed as 1b with Jackson around. This could be Maclin’s chance to step out of the three-time Pro Bowler’s shadow.

So what happened the next two seasons?

Health issues partially derailed his 2011 campaign. A mysterious illness—at one point thought to be lymphoma—had Maclin laid up for most of the offseason and would cause him to miss training camp. He was in uniform Week 1, but had lost weight and muscle mass in the meantime. An injury cost him three games later on as well.

All things considered, Maclin still posted a quality line with 63 receptions, 859 yards and five touchdowns. He was on pace to break 1,000 had he played all 16 games.

2012 wasn’t merely a disappointing season for Maclin. The Eagles finally bottomed out under Andy Reid, a 4-12 record resulting in the head coach’s firing after 14 years. The offense regressed as Jackson, All-Pro running back LeSean McCoy, starting quarterback Michael Vick and three members of the offensive line all missed extensive time due to injuries.

Maclin still finished with 69 receptions, 857 yards and seven touchdown catches in 15 games, making him Philadelphia’s leader in all three categories.

Those figures aren’t going to make anybody forget about Jackson anytime soon. Then again, there is plenty of reason to believe Maclin could revert to his 2010 form under Kelly, if not exceed his breakout season entirely.

Why? Because practically everybody wearing midnight green (minus 30-year-old Jason Avant) posted some form of career high in Kelly’s offense during the head coach's first season on the Eagles sideline.

Jackson’s 82 catches and 1,332 were by far personal bests. Riley Cooper went from being a reserve who was in danger of being cut in training camp to viable No. 2 receiver. Brent Celek’s 15.7 yards per catch were 2.6 yards better than his previous high. McCoy won his first his NFL rushing championship. Nick Foles came out of nowhere to lead the league in passer rating.

It stands to reason Maclin would benefit from Kelly’s presence, too. Without Jackson there to take away targets, he’ll certainly have more opportunity than ever.

And, no, Maclin does not need the extra attention Jackson draws from defenses on the opposite side to be successful. Sure, Maclin is not quite as dangerous of a deep threat—although DBs would be wise not to sleep on his 4.4 speed—but he’s posted big days when Jackson was inactive in the past.

In the five games Jackson missed in 2012—four with Foles under center—Maclin recorded 28 receptions, 353 yards and three touchdowns. Project those numbers over a full season, and they work out to 89, 1,129 and nine.

It’s safe to say that kind of volume would go a long way toward replacing Jackson’s production.

Of course, there is still the issue of Maclin’s ACL. The truth is we have no real way of knowing how he’ll respond. What we do know is torn ACLs are not the career death sentence they once were, and most NFL players seem to recover fully even after experiencing more than one.

The fact that Maclin will only turn 26 this year should offer some hope, along with the knowledge that he will be 13 months into his rehabilitation by the time the season begins.

The good news is, as we’ll explore further in the coming days, it’s not all on Maclin to supplant Jackson’s production. That being said, as long as Maclin is healthy, it’s not as if every one of those 82 catches, 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns suddenly disappeared from the offense. In terms of pure numbers, the Eagles may not miss Jackson as much as we think.

Eagles Film Review: Carson Wentz's improvisation pays off big

Eagles Film Review: Carson Wentz's improvisation pays off big

Carson Wentz takes pride in not letting plays die easily. 

In Sunday’s 34-3 win over the Steelers, one play he didn’t let die ended up being the back-breaker in the blowout. 

We’re, of course, talking about the 73-yard touchdown pass to Darren Sproles at the 13:08 mark in the third quarter. Coming into the second half, the Eagles had a 10-point lead, but this touchdown pushed it to a 20-3 advantage and the rout was on. This play was a tone-setter (see story)

“That’s something that we talk about a lot,” Wentz said after the game. “We always say that a play is never dead. I like to make plays when we need to and everyone just does a great job of getting open in those situations.”

This was the first big off-schedule play Wentz has hit during his three weeks as the team’s starter, but the signs were there. In the Chicago game, there were several times where he showed his ability to extend plays. We broke them down in a film review last week (see story).

Throughout the week, Wentz had been compared to Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. One of the reasons was their shared ability to extend plays and make something happen. Big Ben showed his ability in the first quarter and almost connected on a huge touchdown pass to Markus Wheaton in the back of the end zone, but the receiver couldn’t pull it in. 

When Wentz got his shot later in the game, Sproles was able to pull it in, then make something happen with his feet. 

“I saw Carson scrambling this way,” head coach Doug Pederson said. “Darren was literally right in front of me and when I saw him wheel, my first reaction was to find the sideline to see if he stepped out to be quite honest.  He hadn’t, and Carson just — it was like in slow motion — floated that ball up the sideline and Darren did the rest from there. It was a tremendous play from those two individuals. I guess the last thing I did is I always look back to make sure there are no flags on the ground on those long plays.”

There were no flags. Touchdown. Game. 

Let’s take a closer look at the play: 

Wentz is in shotgun with Sproles in the backfield with him. The Eagles come out with three-wide on the far side of the field and a lot of space on the near side. 

Stephon Tuitt, who actually had a pretty good game against the Eagles, takes this route to the quarterback. When he gets to left guard Allen Barbre, Barbre either didn’t see him or didn’t react quickly enough. 

While Sproles is still running his short out, Wentz feels the pressure and is able to step up through the hole created by Lane Johnson and Brandon Brooks. As soon as he makes it through, Wentz still has his eyes downfield. 

Now Wentz is through the hole and sees Sproles finishing his out-route. This is when Wentz, on the run, motions to Sproles to take off. This is something we’ve seen Wentz do a few times during his three weeks as Eagles quarterback. 

Wentz was left with a tough decision here. He could have run for 10, maybe even 15 yards. It was wide open, but he decided to try to make a play with his arm instead. 

“I always want to be a thrower first,” he said. “Even when a play breaks down, I’m always looking [to throw] because that’s where the big plays are happening. If I scramble I might get 5, 10, 15, 20 yards, but I’m not that fast. I always want to get it to the guys that can make plays. We always want to make plays when they’re there, and that’s what happened.”

With the line of scrimmage at the 27, Wentz has enough awareness to run horizontally to make sure he didn’t cross. And as soon as Pittsburgh safety Mike Mitchell takes that first step toward him, Wentz sees how much room Sproles has to work with. 

Ryan Shazier, who was covering Sproles on the play, froze and then started to step toward Wentz too. He said he thought the quarterback crossed the line of scrimmage, but Wentz was aware enough to stay behind.  

Once Sproles catches the ball in open space, he begins to do Sproles things. Defensive back Sean Davis took a bad angle on him and once he gets close, the veteran turns it inside. Davis said he was trying to buy time for the rest of his defense to get there and stop Sproles. It didn’t work. 

“Man, it’s Sproles!” receiver Nelson Agholor said. “Did you think he was going to get tackled?”

While he’s blocking downfield, Dorial Green-Beckham actually trips himself up and does a somersault. But it didn’t matter — Sproles didn’t need a great block. He pretty much did it himself. 

“Anytime that you can put it in the hands of [Sproles] something special can happen on any play, and he did the rest of it,” Wentz said. 

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Travis Konecny leaves impression with vets in Flyers' preseason win

Travis Konecny leaves impression with vets in Flyers' preseason win

ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Michael Raffl had just finished playing alongside Travis Konecny, the 19-year-old kid that has Flyers fans abuzz about the now and future.

Yet for Raffl, he wasn’t thinking forward. Instead, he was looking back.

“Yeah, well, I couldn’t do that when I was 19, that’s for sure,” the 27-year-old said smiling, eyes wide open. “No, it’s impressive, he’s a really, really good hockey player.”

Konecny had that resounding affect Wednesday night at the PPL Center, recording a goal and an assist while leading the Flyers to a 2-0 preseason win over the Devils (see 10 observations).

He dazzled with speed and shiftiness.

He showed off vision and smarts.

When he touched the puck, he had everyone’s attention.

Paired with Raffl and Brayden Schenn in a game featuring mostly prospects, the 2015 first-round pick made the molding of Ron Hextall’s roster that much more difficult. With the general manager looking on, the highly touted winger started fast before making his imprint during a span of just four minutes and 34 seconds in the second period.

First, he redirected a blast by Andrew MacDonald to hand the Flyers a 1-0 lead. Not long after, the 5-foot-10, 184-pounder deceived the defense to find Raffl right in front off a backdoor pass for a 2-0 advantage.

“We had a cycle play going and he had a nice fake up top there and I was just going to the net,” Raffl said. “Somehow I was all by myself and he saw me, put a perfect pass on my tape and I just went around the goalie and put it in.”

Following his first goal, Konecny nearly tacked on another less than a minute later when he appeared to hit the crossbar on a shot. He also flirted with a few more assists.

“I think I just played relaxed,” Konecny said. “I came into the game tonight trying not to do too much and just keep things simple. The main thing for me was getting pucks out of the zone, so I think I did that well tonight and hopefully I can keep building on it.”

Relieving pucks from the zone isn’t a real problem when you possess the speed and skill of Konecny, who racked up 101 points last season at the junior level.

At just 19, that’s where he’ll have to return if he doesn’t crack the Flyers’ roster.

With cuts already made and more coming, that sometimes is on Konecny’s mind.

“It weighs on you a little bit. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t thinking about it and it’s definitely the time I need to step up and make sure I’m playing good hockey,” Konecny said. “And just earning another day — that’s just the way I’m looking at it. Every day I wake up and just work hard and move forward from there.

“I think everyone comes into camp and tries to give them (management) a reason not to send you back and make it hard on them.”

Wednesday night didn’t hurt his chances.

“He played a good hockey game,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said. “Had an impact offensively. He did a pretty good job. There’s some youthful mistakes in there, but overall, he had a real good night tonight playing with Raf and Schenner.”

Placing Konecny with two capable NHL forwards offered the Canadian an opportunity to prove what he could do if he was in fact on the big club.

“We played well together,” Konecny said. “I think from the start we just had a lot of communication, we talked in the room, in warmups, we all knew what we were going to do throughout the game and in certain scenarios.”

If anything, Konecny left an impression on Raffl.

“He’s a very smart player,” Raffl said. “Once he has the puck, he makes smart decisions with it. It was very easy to play with him out there. He plays a mature game and I really enjoyed it.”

Time will tell if more enjoyment is in store come Oct. 14.

Loose pucks
Anthony Stolarz and Alex Lyon combined for the shutout. Stolarz started and made 11 saves over 29:23, while Lyon played 30:37 and stopped seven shots. “I like both of our guys tonight,” Hakstol said. “Stolie did a good job, he made a difference in this game in the first 10 minutes, those two or three really good saves there. Then Alex came in halfway through, which isn’t an easy thing to do and was ready to go and did his job.” … Schenn, MacDonald and defensive prospect Robert Hagg finished with an assist apiece. … With the roster currently standing at 49, the Flyers expect to make 15 cuts on Thursday. … Defenseman Nick Schultz is out four to seven days with a lower-body injury suffered in Tuesday night’s preseason game. ... The Flyers are off Thursday before likely practicing Friday ahead of Saturday's preseason game at 7 p.m. against the Bruins at the Wells Fargo Center.